Don't tell me the moon is shining;
show me the glint of light on broken glass.
~Anton Chekhov

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Canadians Not Innocent When It Comes To Torture

Recent news reports indicate that the Canadian Foreign Affairs office issued an instruction manual for their diplomats on how to recognize if one of their imprisoned citizens has been tortured. The part that made it newsworthy is that the United States of America is now listed as one of the countries that tortures prisoners. According to the National Security Reporter Michelle Shephard:

"Torture Awareness Workshop Reference Materials," gives the legal definitions of torture and instructs consular officials how to detect signs of abuse of Canadians detained abroad.

Under the heading, "Possible Torture/Abuse Cases," the manual lists Afghanistan, China, Egypt, Guantanamo Bay, Iran, Israel, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Syria and United States."

I am absolutely horrified by all the stories of torture, extraordinary rendition (sending prisoners to other countries to have them tortured) and other such practices. I fear that in future generations when the United States of America comes to mind, the symbol will not be Lady Liberty, but our shameful betrayal of our standards.

However, the Canadians are not innocent when it comes to torture either.

Maher Arar is a well-known case that is cited as one of the reasons the United States was added to the list. If you click his name in this paragraph it will take you to a New Yorker story that describes his plight in more detail.

Basically, Arar is a Canadian citizen who was traveling home after a family vacation in 2002. During a layover at JFK he was pulled aside for questioning. He was then held in the U. S. for two weeks without benefit of a lawyer. During that time those Canadians aware of his plight did nothing to assist him. In fact, they falsely told American authorities that he was not a Canadian citizen. Ultimately he was sent on a private plane to Syria where he was imprisoned and and beaten regularly.

What news reports are not mentioning is that in the Maher case, the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and foreign service employees CAUSED the problem by providing false information to the U. S. authorities. It was later revealed in court documents that former CSIS head Jack Hooper was even aware that Arar would probably be tortured.

  • Eventually Maher Arar was cleared (and freed) by the Syrians.
  • Maher's lawsuit against the Canadian government cleared him of all wrongdoing too. He was offered an official apology from the Prime Minister of Canada.
  • He received an apology from the head of the RCMP .
  • He was awarded more than 10 million dollars (one million was for legal fees) because of the behavior of government officials.

He also sued the U. S. Government and Attorney General John Ashcroft. However a trial was deemed impossible due to the U. S. Government's claim that a public airing of the case would damage “National Security”.

As far as we know, Canada doesn't have any prisons equivalent to Guantamano Bay. Yet, when the chips were down their desire to 'co-operate' with their U. S. ally was so great that they threw one of their own citizens into a life of hell. The only person that lost their job in the Maher tragedy was the head of the RCMP. The actual men/women who provided the false information have not been punished. Some have been promoted.

I don't disagree with their adding the United States to their list. Sadly, as much as the truth hurts, there is no doubt that torture sanctioned by our government occurs. However, as the old saying goes:

When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”

Perhaps enough Canadians in power have given themselves a fleabath. Perhaps they have developed 'flea collars' against behaving so badly in the future. But their complicity should not be forgotten.

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